'We all follow the West Ham'

It is no secret that some of England's leading sportswriters are West Ham United supporters.

However, it came as something of a surprise to the Hammers squad and staff when they walked into their hotel rooms in Wellington, and were confronted by a magazine cover depicting drawings of Winston Reid and Sam Allardyce.

Fish Head is New Zealand's capital's monthly lifestyle magazine and its editor, Dan Slevin, is a lifelong Hammer who was born and raised in Manor Park.

Slevin could not believe his luck when rumours that West Ham had been invited to the city by A-League club Wellington Phoenix for this summer's Football United Tour turned out to be true.

Once the news was confirmed that the Hammers, complete with All Whites national-team captain Reid, would be coming to town on 26 July, there was never any doubt that Claret and Blue would feature prominently on the cover of that month's Fish Head.

"I was born and grew up in Manor Park so I'm a lifelong West Ham fan, although in those days I wasn't actually allowed to go to games because of the problems with hooliganism," said Slevin in his hybrid East End/Kiwi accent.

"Nowadays with the explosion of the internet and the interest in the Premier League over here, I've got back into following the team closely and becoming a dedicated Hammer again over the last seven or eight years.

"When I heard that West Ham were coming to my town, the town that I love, then I had to get behind it and get the magazine behind it.

"It was the most expensive cover I've ever done, hand-drawn in Roy of the Rovers style. We got Winston on the cover and I think Sam will be pleased with the likeness!

"It's the biggest-selling magazine we've had in ages and we've had a lot of overseas Hammers from Australia and the UK asking how they can send copies back, so we're really happy with the result."

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Dan Slevin has edited Fish Head for the past six months

While football featured on the cover of Fish Head for the visit of the Hammers, the magazine has covered a wide range of cultural topics alongside sport for the past three-and-a-half-years.

"It's a lifestyle magazine basically telling Wellington people about what is going on in their city," explained Slevin, who took over editorship six months ago and recently oversaw a successful redesign. "It introduces them to the characters and contains interviews with prominent people and business to business as well.

"We cover food and drink, hospitality, recipes, fashion and all those things, focusing on the people of Wellington who are doing good things, like the Phoenix, and supporting and promoting them."

With billboards and flags flying all over the city ahead of West Ham's visit, Wellington got right behind the Football United Tour.

On matchday, 30,000 fans turned out for a double-header that saw West Ham face Sydney FC and the Phoenix take on Newcastle United.

In short, New Zealand's capital went football-mad for a few days in what is undoubtedly rugby country.

"It was fantastic for the city," Slevin confirmed. "Wellington has always been an events city and we get behind the things that go on here.

"We've only got a population of 400,000, but so much happens, whether it be the bands that come to town or the film festival that was held last week.

"When the Lord of the Rings premiere was held here, something like 250,000 local people came out and lined the red carpet. Wellington people just get behind events and love the fact that there is a lot more going on here than perhaps we deserve."

While 250,000 people did not turn out to welcome West Ham, of the many thousands who did, a large number were already Hammers supporters.

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Editor Dan Slevin with Fish Head cover star Winston Reid

"We said in our article that most Kiwis go away for an overseas experience after they have finished university, and many go to London and find the cheapest part of the city to live in, which is often east London," Slevin explained.

"For that reason, their local team is West Ham, so there are a lot of West Ham fans just from travelling to the UK.

"Doing a lot of work with schools was fantastic and every schoolkid who got a West Ham beanie during your stay will be a Hammer for life!"

For Slevin, who met Big Sam and the players at Westpac Stadium as a member of the accredited media, for Fish Head and for the city of Wellington, the Hammers' visit will live very long in the memory.

"For me personally, West Ham's visit was a dream come true," he smiled. "I managed to get so close to the guys who had previously only been pictures on TV, which was fantastic.

"Seeing that they are just people doing a job and there were no airs or graces about them was very refreshing. They are a thoroughly nice and professional bunch of lads.

"For the magazine it's been so good to have so many famous guests here, and we put copies in every four and five star hotel room in the city, which means our readership is now international, which is fantastic.

"For the city, it's been an absolutely awesome event. We're not know for our sport, we're known for our culture, so to have a fantastic sporting event across a whole weekend was brilliant."